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EU: As Bush Heads To Europe, Resentment Mounts Over Rejection Of Kyoto Protocol

  • Alexandra Poolos

Ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's arrival tomorrow in Madrid -- the first leg of his first official visit to Europe -- thousands of Spaniards have protested Bush's stance on the death penalty, missile defense, and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos looks at current U.S. policy on global warming, which will be a key issue facing Bush this week.

Prague, 11 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- As President Bush prepares to leave Washington tonight for a five-day European trip -- his first extended visit as head of state -- many Europeans are looking for an explanation as to why Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

The 1997 Kyoto agreement -- which would have committed the U.S. and 167 other nations to the first binding limits on carbon dioxide and other so-called "greenhouse gases" -- was rejected earlier this year (28 March) by Bush, who said the agreement was not in the "economic interests" of the United States.

The decision drew a heated response in Europe, where U.S. allies have reiterated their commitment to the Protocol and rejected any alternative approach to emissions control. However, no parliament -- in Europe or elsewhere -- has yet ratified the Kyoto Protocol, as U.S. presidential chief of staff Andrew Card stressed yesterday:

"Kyoto is a flawed policy and a flawed treaty. None of the European countries that are talking about this have ratified it. So I think it's a little bit of a game they're playing." Despite recent attempts by Bush to defuse criticism on the Continent, the U.S. president still faces a daunting challenge in convincing his European detractors of his commitment to the environment and other trans-Atlantic concerns.

This weekend in Spain, thousands of demonstrators demonstrated against Bush's policies on the death penalty and missile defense, as well as on global warming.

The U.S. administration is reportedly itself divided on the issue of emissions control. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Christine Whitman, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are both said to support consultations with U.S. companies on a mandatory reduction effort.

But Vice President Richard Cheney reportedly has argued that mandatory emission limits would cause many businesses to switch from oil and coal-fired generators to natural gas. This could in turn lead to steep hikes in the price of natural gas and raise the threat of widespread power shortages in the U.S.

Bush is expected to announce to European allies this week a plan to commit millions of dollars to improving research on global warming. The expected statement on boosting research budgets has already met with criticism in both the U.S. and Europe. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said yesterday that the administration has to take a stronger stance on emissions control:

"The president is apparently going to announce that he is for more study. And, frankly, the time for study now has to yield to leadership."

Bill Hare, the climate policy coordinator for Greenpeace International, agrees that funding research is not the best way to approach the issue of climate change. He says the U.S. must commit itself to environmental reforms or risk increasing tensions with the EU:

"The Bush stance is going to exacerbate the existing tensions between the European Union and the U.S. on the Kyoto Protocol and climate issues generally. I think there is a consensus around the world that the time has long passed to do more research on the causes and effects of global warming, and the emphasis now has to be on policy action. And the world has agreed on the protocol. So Mr. Bush's rejection of that and of legally binding limits on emissions is simply going to cause more trans-Atlantic tensions."

Hare says that the U.S. is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and as such is obliged to join international efforts to fight global warming. He says U.S. cooperation is key to controlling climate change, but adds that it is unlikely the EU will be able to influence Bush's current policy.

"I think it's extremely unlikely that the EU will be able to convince Mr. Bush to change his mind on this. It's clear that the administration is determined not to have legally binding emissions control. So it's extremely unlikely the European Union will be able to convince Mr. Bush [to change his policy], and this should be their last serious effort to do so."

Hare links the U.S. reluctance to commit to the Kyoto Protocol to the Bush administration's interest in protecting big business.

"Our reading of it is that, essentially, large oil companies like Exxon and large coal companies are behind the positioning of the Bush administration on this issue. There are a lot of other companies in the U.S. that would positively gain from the implementation of the protocol. Indeed, it would lead to the generation of whole new industries."

European leaders are still hoping the U.S. will negotiate further on adhering to the Kyoto Protocol. European Commission President Romano Prodi said today the EU is open to discussions and hopes the U.S. will be flexible on the topic.

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